My little brother has a group of friends in our neighborhood that my mom likes to refer to as “the posse.” Four families, seven kids (sometimes more), and one block of our street are his playground. After school, he plays with one or all of them.

For three years, there has been a gaping hole in the posse, a hole left by two little boys named Justin and Eric.

Justin and my brother Kyle hit it off right away when they first met. Kyle was in first grade and Justin in second. Justin lived right across the street from us, and the two boys would wave out of their bedroom windows at one another in the morning before school or at night before bed. They had sleepovers on weekends.

Kyle liked Justin, but I liked his little brother Eric. He was a few years younger, and would sit at the window by his front door, waving at me when I’d be outside to pick up Kyle from his house. Our middle brother Zach liked Eric too, because Zach may be built like a bear but he’s a teddy bear with little kids.

And my mom liked Angie, Justin and Eric’s mom. Angie immigrated to the United States from China with her husband Alan, who is an American citizen. Justin and Eric were born here. When they first moved in across the street, Angie, who was very quiet, would often call us to tell Justin to come home. My mom would sigh and say how sad she thought it was that Angie was the stereotype of a quiet housewife, and wished she would become more of a girlfriend to her and the other posse moms.

That chance came in the summer of 2009, shortly after Angie and Alan announced that they and their sons would be moving back to China. Kyle was understandably devastated, even though they said the move would be temporary. But while he and Justin were enjoying the last few weeks together, my mom was playing a different role for Angie.

Alan went to China before the rest of his family. The move was for his job, and he wanted to get settled and prepare everything for their arrival later in the summer without uprooting their kids yet. However, shortly after he left, we heard that he told Angie he was having an affair, and that their marriage might be over when she and their sons landed in China.

Angie confided in my mother. My mom took her to a close friend who is an attorney, who in turn found an immigration lawyer. Angie feared that if Alan divorced her in China, he would be able to keep her sons there. What if she wanted to return to the United States to raise them here?

When Justin went off to China, at the same time as I went off to college, the situation was apparently stable. Now, more than three years later, it remains so as Justin, Eric and their  family prepare to come back to the United States around the new year. However, they are coming back to a very different neighborhood posse.

Angie’s situation before leaving for China turned out to be oddly prophetic for the posse. Since they left, my parents and another set of posse parents have divorced. Angie and Alan’s marriage is still intact.

I make no secret to my mother that I have never been the posse’s biggest fan. As the older sister, I never expected or wanted to like any of my brother’s friends. In the midst of our own chaos, I had almost entirely forgotten about Justin and how close he came to being in a similar situation, half a world away.

Now Justin is coming home, and for the first time I see a revived sense of normalcy possible for the posse and their families. I see a benefit not only to some now-adolescent young boys, but to their parents as well. I believe Angie and my mom have far more in common now than they ever did before Angie’s family left. I like to think that my mother and little brother are a small part of what makes this country so desirable for Angie and her boys. I know that Justin will be a big part of what makes it feel like home for Kyle as he grows up.

In 2013, the posse will be back together again. Different and older, but together.